Home > The Very Thought of You

The Very Thought of You
Author: Lynn Kurland







  THE HORSE SCRUNCHED UP HIS NOSE, TOSSED HIS HEAD IN obvious discomfort, and then sneezed.

  Alexander Smith opened his mouth to curse, then realized the precariousness of his situation. He grasped the top edge of the stall door and very deliberately clamped his lips shut. He blinked furiously to clear his eyes of a substance he didn’t want to examine too closely.

  He should have stayed in bed.

  He’d known that, of course, from the moment he’d woken. His first clue had been the sound of rain on the roof—day fifty-six of the Scottish deluge. His next warning had been shivering through a cold shower, courtesy of his younger brother. The final straw had been counting on a breakfast of sausage, eggs, and fried potatoes only to find nothing but dangerously aged cottage cheese and on-the-verge-of-turning-green bread in the fridge. By the grease stains on his brother’s chin, Alex had known immediately where to lay the blame.

  And now this.

  He looked down at his snotty shirt and wondered just how long it would take for it to crust over so he wouldn’t drip all over the house.

  His horse, looking much more comfortable and rather contrite, bumped him companionably with his nose.

  “Beast, Beast,” Alex said, carefully dragging his sleeve across his mouth, “do you really think I can go out looking like this? What if we run into some beautiful Scottish girl? What kind of impression are we going to make?”

  Beast ducked his head in obvious shame.

  Alex grunted. “That’s right. Well, have a nice day. I’m sure you will, now you can breathe again. I’m going back to bed.”

  It seemed the safest alternative.

  He wiped his face with a patch of clean shirttail, then left the stables and walked across the courtyard. The castle rose up before him, an impenetrable wall of gray stone relieved only by a few windows on the second floor. His brother-in-law Jamie had spent a fortune seeing the keep restored and the results were chilling. Alex could almost see medieval Scottish clansmen bursting out the front door in their plaids, brandishing their swords and screaming like banshees.

  Alex entered the hall and pulled the door shut behind him with a bang. Once his eyes adjusted to the interior light, he saw his younger brother sitting in front of the hearth, warming his toes by the fire. Alex marched across the great hall, prepared to give the runt a second installment in the berating he’d given him earlier. He didn’t want another Saturday starting out like this—sans hot water and saturated fat.

  Zachary glanced up from his book, took one look at Alex, and started to laugh.

  “Gggrrrr,” Alex said, wondering if strangling his brother would be half as satisfying as just contemplating it was.

  “Good grief,” Zachary gasped out between guffaws. “What’d you have—an encounter with the Blob?”

  Alex gritted his teeth. “How’d you like to have an encounter with my fists?”

  “Eeuw,” Zachary said with a shudder. “Maybe after you clean up.”

  “As if I could,” Alex growled.

  “What’s your problem? I had plenty of hot water.”

  “I know!”

  Zachary only blinked innocently. Then he rubbed his disgustingly well-fed belly. “There’s nothing left in the fridge, you know,” he said.

  “And whose fault do you think that is?” Alex demanded.

  Zach sighed again, the mournful sigh of a man left home alone with nothing to graze upon. “Man, I hate it when Jamie and Elizabeth go out of town. The least they could have done was leave Patrick or Joshua behind. Josh makes great desserts.” He looked at Alex narrowly. “Why’d I get stuck with just you? You won’t even keep the fridge stocked.”

  Alex relived briefly in his mind some of the more choice experiences he’d had pummeling his baby brother. His irritation momentarily soothed by those warm and fuzzy memories, he managed to speak very calmly. “And what’s wrong with you that you can’t go to the store?”

  Zach settled himself more comfortably into his chair and moved his toes closer to the fire. “I’m too busy. You go instead. And get something good. None of that health food garbage.”

  Alex mentally counted to ten. When that didn’t work, he set his sights on a larger number.

  “Oh, and Alex? I’d go shower first if I were you.” He looked at Alex and started to grin again. “Really. I think it would be the right thing to do.”

  Alex wanted more than anything to wring his brother’s neck in payment for ruining his Saturday morning and to stop the brat’s giggles. Unfortunately, his shirt was beginning to crust over and he was starting to itch.

  “I’ll go to the store later,” he growled, contenting himself with giving Zachary a murderous look and a smart cuff to the ear on his way to the stairs. With any luck there would be hot water by now.

  He rummaged around in the armoire for clean clothes, then headed for his bathroom. He was just reaching into the shower for the taps when the phone started to ring. He ignored it and turned on the water. He hesitantly put his fingers under the spray and smiled in faint surprise at the increasingly warm temperature. Maybe things were starting to look up.

  He started to strip when he realized he had no towel. He had a vague memory of having flung it into the hamper in disgust after his earlier foray into chilly waters. After turning off the shower to conserve what precious hot water there was, he opened the bathroom door only to hear the phone still ringing. Alex growled in frustration.

  “Zach, get the phone!” he yelled.

  The phone continued to ring. Alex cursed as he gingerly rebuttoned his shirt, then made his way into his brother-in-law’s study.

  “What?” he barked into the receiver.

  “Nice to talk to you, too, buddy,” a male voice said with a laugh. “All that lovely Scottish scenery getting to you?”

  Alex rolled his eyes heavenward. His day had just taken a decided turn for the worse. “Tony, what do you want?”

  “What, no chitchat?”

  “Not with you, thanks anyway.”

  “How’s Elizabeth?” Tony continued. “The baby? Your barbarian brother-in-law?”

  “My sister’s fine, her baby is fine, and Jamie is fine. Now what the hell do you want?”

  “Well, since you asked,” Tony said with a strained laugh, “I’ll get right to it. We need your services.”

  Leave it to Tony not to mince words. Alex took a deep breath.

  “Tony, I quit eight months ago. I haven’t changed my mind.”

  “But you haven’t heard the deal on this one, my friend.”

  “I don’t want to hear.”

  Tony made a sound of impatience. “It’s the sweetest takeover I’ve ever seen. Smooth, easy. They’ll never see it coming. I’ve already got controlling interest. I just need you to come in and close the deal. It will make you richer than your wildest dreams.”

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